Lighten The Load This School Year

Posted: September 3, 2019

Lighten the Load this School Year

Parents, teachers and students across the country are in the back-to-school mindset focused on a successful year ahead.

As the experts in bone and joint health injury prevention, members of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) remind us that heavy backpacks can be a source of back, neck and shoulder-related pain in adolescents and adults. In fact, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in 2018, emergency departments, doctors' offices and clinics treated 50,635 people for backpack-related injuries.

"Back pain due to improperly wearing and overloading a backpack is a common symptom," states Afshin Razi, MD, FAAOS, orthopaedic spine surgeon and AAOS spokesperson. "To limit injuries or back pain, encourage your children to limit the load and utilize both padded straps for proper posture and weight distribution."

While U.S.-based organizations vary on how much weight one should carry, on average it is suggested a healthy child with an appropriate body mass index should not carry more than 10% to 20% of their body weight in a backpack.

Decrease your chances of backpack-related injuries this school year by following these simple tips from orthopaedic surgeons at the AAOS:

  • Always use both shoulder straps when carrying a backpack. The correct use of both wide, well-padded shoulder straps will help distribute the weight of the backpack more evenly across the user's back.
  • Tighten the straps to keep the load closer to the back. The bottom of the backpack should sit at the waist.
  • Organize the items: pack heavier things low and towards the center.
  • Pack light, removing items if the backpack is too heavy. Carry only those items that are required for the day, and if possible, leave unnecessary books at home or school.
  • When picking up a backpack, lift properly by bending at the knees.

Parents also can help with backpack-related matters:

  • Encourage your child or teenager to tell you about numbness, tingling, or discomfort in the arms or legs, which may indicate poor backpack fit or too much weight.
  • Watch your child put on or take off the backpack to see if it is a struggle. If the backpack seems too heavy for the child, have them remove some of the books and carry them in their arms to ease the load on the back.

Do not ignore any back pain in a child or teenager. Talk to the school about lightening the load. Team up with other parents to encourage changes. Encourage your child to stop at his or her locker when time permits throughout the day to drop off or exchange heavier books.

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